Q+A with Garland Potts, Graphic Designer + Perpetual Nomad

When you first meet Garland, you immediately feel like you’ve known her forever. She is charming, intelligent, driven, open-minded, and extremely humble. Maybe more importantly, shes interested in everyone and everything, with a true journalist’s (and explorer’s) heart. She currently lives in Seattle, Washington, but she has spent many of her recent years living, working, and studying in Spain. Although she is no longer living abroad, she maintains close ties to the country through meaningful relationships with her Spanish friends, and staying on top of her superb Spanish skills. Without further ado, meet the lovely Garland Potts! 

The Basics

  • Age: 27
  • Location: Seattle, WA
  • Education: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill + IE University in Madrid, Spain
  • Field of Interest: Graphic design + journalism
  • What Inspired You Today? I am constantly inspired by female comedians like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Mindy Kaling. They are breaking the mold in an entertainment genre where it has always been a man’s world, and I really admire them. Even though they are in an entirely different field than my own, it is still awesome to see how they deal with the struggles of being successful women in a male-dominated industry.
  • What’s Your Favorite Thing About Yourself? I suppose my willingness to try new things. For example, I decided to move to both Madrid, Spain and Seattle, Washington without really knowing anyone who lived there or much about the cities.

Questions + Answers

YOU GREW UP IN CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA AND THEN ATTENDED BOARDING SCHOOL AT ST. CATHERINE’S SCHOOL IN RICHMOND, VIRGINIA FOR YOUR HIGH SCHOOL YEARS. HOW DID THIS EXPERIENCE OF LIVING ON YOUR OWN AT AN EARLY AGE SHAPE YOUR IDEA OF INDEPENDENCE AND YOUR SENSE OF WHO YOU ARE?

Going to boarding school for all four years of high school definitely made me more independent. I think it has a lot to do with the person I turned out to be. I didn’t really know any of the other students there when I started, so that was really my first experience of leaving home, going to a new place, and having to start from scratch in terms of building a life, meeting people and making friends, and getting comfortable in an entirely new city.

WHILE STUDYING ABROAD IN PAMPLONA, SPAIN DURING YOUR TIME AT UNC, YOU MADE A STRONG CONNECTION TO THE COUNTRY, MASTERED THE SPANISH LANGUAGE, AND ULTIMATELY DECIDED TO MAKE IT A PRIORITY TO RETURN TO SPAIN IN THE NEAR FUTURE. CONSEQUENTLY, YOU STUDIED AT IE UNIVERSITY IN MADRID IN THE YEARS AFTER COLLEGE TO OBTAIN YOUR MASTERS IN DIGITAL JOURNALISM. HOW DID YOU DEAL WITH THE INEVITABLE HOMESICKNESS THAT COMES FROM LIVING IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY SO FAR FROM HOME?

I think the excitement of being in a new place and the desire to take advantage of everything in a new city outweighed my feelings of homesickness.

I always knew that I would only be in Madrid temporarily, so no matter how long I was there for, whether it was for 5 months in college, or a year for the masters program, I made it a point not to think about what I was missing out on at home. Instead, I spent more time and energy thinking of all the things that I needed to cram in during my time so I could do absolutely everything that I wanted to do.

There were definitely times that I missed home, and the States, but I figured if I worried too much about it then I would miss out on too many great things in Spain.

WHAT WERE YOUR FAVORITE AND LEAST-FAVORITE PARTS ABOUT PURSUING AN EDUCATION (AND BUILDING A LIFE) IN A COMPLETELY FOREIGN COUNTRY?

My favorite part of studying in Spain and the program that I participated in was that it was completely geared toward international students. Consequently, the students in my program were from all over the world, from South America to Asia.

It was so incredible to have the chance to learn in a setting with students from such diverse backgrounds. Especially in a field like journalism, where it is expected that everyone is aware of what is going on in their home countries, but not necessarily that knowledgeable of each others’. It was great to be able to share that knowledge and experience with one another and to learn so much about the homes and current events of other students’ countries.

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I will say that studying at a university in Europe is very, very different from one in the States. There are no sports teams, no school mascots to cheer for. Consequently, the university community and campus fill fewer roles in the life of its students. This was strange for me after coming from two different schools, St. Catherine’s and UNC, where my life essentially revolved around the campus and my fellow students.

YOU’RE NOW WORKING AS A NEWS AND INFOGRAPHICS ARTIST AT THE SEATTLE TIMES, WHICH SEEMS TO BE THE PERFECT COMBINATION OF YOUR DEGREES IN JOURNALISM AND DIGITAL MEDIA. NOT ONLY THAT, BUT YOUR TEAM WAS JUST AWARDED A PULITZER FOR YOUR COVERAGE OF LAST YEAR’S OSO LANDSLIDE IN WASHINGTON STATE, SO IT’S CLEAR YOU’RE DOING WELL! IT IS PRETTY RARE TO FIND SUCH A GOOD FIT IN TERMS OF EMPLOYMENT WHEN YOU’RE STILL SO YOUNG. HOW DIFFICULT WAS IT TO GET TO THIS POINT?

To be honest, I spent quite a long time living at home with my parents back in Charlotte, NC while I looked for jobs in journalism after returning from Spain.

I was getting a lot of pressure from my parents to just take whatever job in graphic or web design that I could find and then worry about finding a job in journalism later, but I was really determined to wait it out and keep looking so that I could work in journalism, which is what I felt the most passion for. I tried not to rush into any decisions, which in the end worked out for me as I was able to find this job with the Seattle Times, which I love. Since moving here and starting at the paper things have been great. One thing I really enjoy is that I am still learning a lot, whether from other coworkers or from teaching things to myself in my free time, like learning HTML and Javascript, among other things.

THROUGHOUT YOUR ENTIRE JOURNEY OF STUDYING AND WORKING IN SPAIN, LIVING IN CHARLOTTE, AND FINALLY MOVING TO SEATTLE, WHAT WERE YOUR MAJOR OBSTACLES AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM?

I mentioned this a bit in the last question but there was definitely quite a dark period before I really felt like I had achieved what I really wanted. It went something like this: I found an internship at an online newspaper in Madrid during my senior year at UNC. When you study abroad in college, you have tons of resources to help you with all the requirements and paperwork involved in working in a foreign country, but in this case since I was not going through a study abroad program this time, I was on my own.

I spent a couple months working for the UNC newspaper in Chapel Hill, North Carolina while I tried to figure out logistics. Finally, I went to the consulate in Washington, DC to submit the paperwork. They then told me that I would only be allowed to go for three months as opposed to the six months that I had planned on doing. Such a disappointment!

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I decided to go for the three months anyway. After my three months were up, the newspaper in Madrid offered me a job! So I returned home and spent another grueling six months or so trying to get a work visa so that I could go back and accept the job offer. I had everything that I needed from the US, but Spain just did not want to give me the visa. It was a headache. In the end I went back for another three months to do another internship at the same newspaper, and then eventually decided to give up on the work visa because it was clearly not going anywhere.

But there was a silver lining! Through that experience battling for the work visa and spending intermittent months interning in Madrid, I ended up finding the masters program with IE University that I would eventually do.

Unfortunately, this also had a major hiccup in it – I was supposed to start a few months after I returned to the States, and then I got a call saying that the program had been delayed a year! I was left to decide if I wanted to wait a year or consider finding a real job and moving on from my dream of returning to Spain for an extended period of time. I looked for jobs, did some temporary work, and did a lot of freelance graphic and web design. In the end, I decided that I really did want to do the program and I thought that I would really regret it if I turned it down, even if I did have to wait another year. It was one of those things that I felt like I had to do, no matter the complications and inconveniences. And I am so happy that I held out for it! It was definitely one of the best experiences I’ve ever had – I made life-long friends with whom I still visit regularly and priceless memories.

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WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNG PEOPLE INTERESTED IN WORKING ABROAD?

It can definitely be a struggle working through all the documents and government approval that is needed to work abroad, but if it is really something that interests you, do not let all of the red tape deter you. I had to work incredibly hard to make it work for me, but in the end, it was completely worth it. I would go through the entire struggle all over again if the right opportunity presented itself.

Whether it is moving across the country or moving across the world, if you have a passion for something, you need to pursue it. You will not regret it. Even if you end up hating the job, it will certainly be an experience you will never forget.

Who Inspires You?

Lauren Caldwell – She is one of my best friends and an incredible person. She has worked for all sorts of fundraisers and currently works for the Make A Wish Foundation.

Vanessa Dezem – She was in my Masters program in Madrid and she is one of the most driven, smart and wonderful people I’ve ever met. She is Brazilian and is currently living in Brazil.

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Connect with Garland on Instagram!

+ know any other adventurous, ambitious, and talented young people? Tell us who we should feature next!
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